I’m not sure when it became so important to conservatives that they appear to be aligned with Black people, but booooy have they gotten desperate. I knew it was bad when Candace Owens, the grandmaster of tap-dancery, was out here paying Black people to attend a Trump rally and fake-represent “Blexit,” but it turns out people are also creating fake Twitter accounts posing as Black Trump supporters, and those accounts are getting popular with the quickness—that is, until they get shut down.
From the Washington Post:
An account featuring the image of a Black police officer, President Trump and the words “VOTE REPUBLICAN” had a brief but spectacular run on Twitter. In six days after it became active last week, it tweeted just eight times but garnered 24,000 followers, with its most popular tweet being liked 75,000 times.
Then, on Sunday, the account was gone—suspended by Twitter for breaking its rules against platform manipulation.
The remarkable reach of @CopJrCliff and other fake accounts from supposed Black Trump supporters highlights how an account can be effective at pushing misleading narratives in just a few days—faster than Twitter can take it down.
A network of more than two dozen similar accounts, many of them using identical language in their tweets, recently has generated more than 265,000 retweets or other amplifying “mentions” on Twitter, according to Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill, who has been tracking them since last weekend. Several had tens of thousands of followers, and all but one have now been suspended.
Researchers call fake accounts featuring supposed Black users “digital blackface,” a reference to the now-disgraced tactic of White people darkening their faces for film or musical performances intended to mimic African Americans.
Many of the accounts used profile pictures of Black men taken from news reports or other sources. Several of the accounts claimed to be from members of groups with pro-Trump leanings, including veterans, police officers, steelworkers, businessmen and avid Christians. One of the fake accounts had, in the place of a profile photo, the words “black man photo”—a hint of sloppiness by the network’s creators.
Black. Man. Photo. Y’all have to admit that’s pretty damn hilarious. Imagine being so lazy in your pandering for respectable negro clout that you don’t even bother finding an actual photo to steal and instead, you just slap a virtual “Black-owned” sign on your profile.
Researchers aren’t sure who is creating these accounts. Linvill said he found evidence that suggests the network of accounts might be of foreign origin—he said he noticed “a few traces of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet appearing in online records of the accounts” and that one account “previously tweeted to promote an escort service in Turkey,” the Post reports—but ultimately, he said the origins of this seemingly coordinated effort are difficult to determine.
Linvill does, however, believe these fake accounts are dangerous.
“It’s asymmetrical warfare,” he said, the Post reports. “They don’t have to last long. And they are so cheap to produce that you can get a lot of traction without a whole lot of work. Thank you, Twitter.”
The real question is this: What’s the point?
It’s not like Black people who don’t actually exist can vote. Maybe the people behind these accounts think that if real-life Black people see real-fake Black people supporting the commander-in-COVID-response-disaster we’ll just all get on board. That is definitely some weird white-people-who-don’t-know-shit-about-Black-people logic, but since we don’t even know who is creating these accounts, even that is just speculation.
What we do know is that, while the accounts are fake, the images being used are of real Black people.
CNN published a screenshot of one of the suspended accounts featuring a make-believe Black conservative named Gary Ray.
A post from the account read, “YES IM BLACK AND IM VOTING FOR TRUMP. Twitter has suspended 2 of my other accounts for supporting Trump. Can you please give me some retweets and a follow? I follow all back, Love ya.”
“Gary Ray” does kind of sound like a Black name made by a white guy who isn’t all that familiar with Black names but figured “Malik Jaquese Shabazz” was a little too on the nose. And conservatives stay thinking they’re special negroes so the “YES IM BLACK AND IM VOTING FOR TRUMP” language—which, according to the Post, was found in posts from at least 15 different accounts—does also seem pretty authentic.
But the photo used by “Gary Ray” actually belonged to real flesh-and-bone Black person Robert Williams who told CNN he didn’t know his image was being used this way until the network contacted him.
The image of Williams the “Gary Ray” account used first appeared in The New York Times in August. Williams was profiled in the paper for his wrongful arrest after facial recognition software led Detroit police to accuse him of shoplifting. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Michigan dismissed the case in January, the same month Williams was arrested, due to insufficient evidence.
“I was shocked by it,” Williams said. “I thought it was a weird attempt to mislead people.”
Terrel Wallace, a Detroit musician who performs under the name “Tall Black Guy,” felt the same way when he found out his image was being used in a fake #BlacksForTrump account.
“I’m not even into politics like that,” Wallace told CNN. “I just want to continue doing my music and look after my family. I don’t have time for this foolishness.”
According to the Post, Twitter officials are on the case.
“Our teams are working diligently to investigate this activity and will take action in line with the Twitter Rules if Tweets are found to be in violation,” Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy said.
A Twitter spokesperson told CNN that the accounts violated rules against platform manipulation and spam and that the platform will ban users who tweet in order to “artificially amplify or suppress information.”